Best Individual Performances from Week 1 of Bowl Games

K Becks@@KBecks_ATCCorrespondent IIDecember 30, 2013

Best Individual Performances from Week 1 of Bowl Games

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    College football rolls into its second week of the bowl season on Monday, and over half of the games on the bowl slate will have been played by the end of the night on Dec. 30.

    But while many fans are looking forward to the bigger matchups that await on New Year’s Day and beyond, we’d like to take a step back and admire the performances of some of the talented players from the earlier bowl games.

    Some of these players were the MVPs of their respective game; some weren’t. Some of the players were on the winning end; others had to walk off the field in defeat. But the one thing that all the players had in common is that they provided some great memories for those in attendance and watching on television.

    In the following slides, we’ll take a look at the best individual performances from the first week of bowl action.

Connor Halliday, Washington State Quarterback

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    Halliday managed to tie a bowl record with six touchdown passes in the bowl season opener, the New Mexico Bowl, and with about three minutes remaining it looked as if that would be enough to send Mike Leach’s team home with some hardware.

    But then one of the more unbelievable finishes of the season transpired. Unable to run out the clock, Washington State fumbled the ball not once but twice to allow Colorado State to make up a 15-point deficit and win the game on a last-second field goal, 48-45.

    The loss can be attributed largely to the play-calling of the Washington State coaching staff, which apparently did not have enough faith in the running game to eat up the clock in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.

    But the scoreboard does not totally negate the great performance by Halliday who, in addition to the touchdown passes, recorded 410 yards of passing.

    He was also named the game’s Offensive MVP for his efforts.

Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh Defensive Tackle

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    The 6’0” senior already had raked in the hardware this season, winning the Lombardi Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Bednarik Award and Outland Trophy. But Donald wanted to follow up his terrific regular season with a bowl performance that could elevate his draft stock.

    Donald was one of the main reasons that a Bowling Green offense that averaged nearly 200 yards rushing per game on the season was held to only 10 yards on 34 attempts in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, won by Pittsburgh 30-27.

    Although the defensive tackle’s statistics for the game were not overly impressive (five tackles, including two for loss, one sack and one pass breakup ), he kept Bowling Green from running up the middle and had a number of quarterback hurries throughout the contest.

    Also, Donald’s sack could not have come at a better time for the Panthers, who were trying to stop the Falcons from potentially tying the game in the final minutes.

    But while Donald was great for Pittsburgh on the defensive end, another Panther really stole the show in Detroit...

James Conner, Pittsburgh Running Back

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    Anyone watching the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl who did not know the name James Conner surely does now.

    Conner, a 6’2”, 230-pound wrecking ball with surprising speed, set a Pittsburgh bowl record with 229 rushing yards against a Bowling Green defense that had kept Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Lynch in check on the same field three weeks earlier.

    What was most impressive about Conner’s night was the large chunks of yardage that he gained on most of his 26 carries. He ended the evening with a very impressive 8.81 yards per carry average.

    Conner was breaking tackles left and right, but he also showed the ability to turn it upfield when given open space. Bowling Green clearly was not ready for such a physical rusher in this game, and the freshman made the Falcons pay dearly for that.

    Not surprisingly, Conner was named the game’s MVP in a 30-27 victory for the Panthers.

Rakeem Cato, Marshall Quarterback

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    Still don’t know who Rakeem Cato is? You better get familiar with him, as Bleacher Report’s own Adam Kramer believes the Marshall quarterback has a chance to be a Heisman contender next season.

    The junior appeared extremely poised while leading his team to a 31-20 victory over ACC opponent Maryland in the Military Bowl, which was essentially a home game for the Terrapins.

    Cato’s 337 yards passing and three touchdowns earned him the game’s MVP, but it also probably earned him some new fans watching at home.

    The signal-caller was vocal throughout the game, constantly serving as the Thundering Herd’s biggest cheerleader on the sideline. It is clear that Cato is the team leader and that the other players on the squad have embraced him as such.

    Without Cato it is unlikely that Marshall, which bounced back after losing the Conference USA title game to Rice a few weeks back, would have been able to beat a BCS opponent this season. The win over Maryland was the team’s first.

Taysom Hill, BYU Quarterback

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    Hill is another example of a player who fought valiantly for his team in a losing effort.

    The sophomore came into the game being touted as a dual-threat quarterback, but even Washington had to be surprised by the kind of showing that Hill was able to put on in the Fight Hunger Bowl.

    Hill’s 293 yards passing accompanied with 133 yards on the ground accounted for 90 percent of BYU’s offense, which struggled at times in the 31-16 loss to the Huskies.

    But Hill was fighting for yards in all four quarters and always seemed to pop up quickly after taking some hard hits by Washington defenders.

    An interception late in the fourth quarter essentially ended any chance of a BYU comeback, but Hill should still be commended for putting the team on his back in this game.

    Hill’s performance against a solid Pac-12 squad demonstrates why the sophomore could be one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the country next season.

Ryan Switzer, North Carolina Kick Returner/Wide Receiver

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    The 18-year old true freshman was caught by cameras during the Belk Bowl saying that he wanted to be on SportsCenter. His performance on the field on December 27 gave him that chance.

    Switzer did it all against Cincinnati, rushing once, catching three passes and serving as North Carolina’s punt returner.

    Not surprisingly, nation’s leader in punt returns for touchdowns made his biggest impact in the special teams department.

    In the middle of the third quarter with his team already up on the Cincinnati Bearcats 23-3, Switzer took a  John Lloyd punt back 86 yards for his fifth return for a score on the season, tying an NCAA record. North Carolina cruised to a 39-17 win.

    By the end of the game, the speedy Switzer had 113 all-purpose yards for the Tar Heels en route to being named the game’s MVP.

Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville Quarterback

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    No one is quite sure whether Teddy Bridgewater will opt to forgo his senior year at Louisville, but with performances like the one he put on at the Russell Athletic Bowl, it’s easy to ask the question “Why stay?”

    Most of the nation expected Bridgewater to have a solid game, but to the tune of 447 yards passing and three touchdowns?

    Some of the passing yards were just icing on the cake for Teddy Ballgame, who was left in late in the fourth quarter despite the Cardinals having secured a victory. But that doesn’t negate the fact that the Louisville signal-caller was picking apart the Miami secondary all game long.

    Bridgewater particularly shone on third down, as the Cardinals converted eight of their 14 attempts on the night. His pocket awareness, arm strength and athleticism were on display when the Hurricanes needed a stop to get off the field.

    The only drawback to Bridgewater's terrific night was that it didn’t begin all that well. On Louisville’s first offensive drive, the junior was sacked in the end zone for a safety.

    The way things ended, it’s like that play never even happened.

Tyler Lockett, Kansas State Wide Receiver

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    With Kevin Lockett, Kansas State’s leader in career receiving yards, in the stands watching, the younger Lockett put on a performance in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl that would make any father proud.

    In a game that the Wildcats dictated the action to Michigan on both sides of the ball, Lockett was integral to Bill Snyder’s team posting a 21-6 halftime lead. The junior wideout made all three of his touchdown catches in the first half and finished the game with 116 yards receiving on 10 receptions.

    Lockett was also a force on kickoff returns, tacking on 74 yards in that department.

    Lockett and the other Kansas State receivers did a great job coming back to the ball and made getting open against Wolverine defensive backs look easy, but it’s all part of the Snyder philosophy on offense.

    Lockett’s performance may ultimately contribute to Michigan head coach Brady Hoke entering the 2014 season on the hot seat.

    Michigan played the bowl game without starting quarterback Devin Gardner. But the Wolverines had trouble stopping Kansas State’s offense, in addition to experiencing its woes moving the ball.